We are Bajada Bill and Cactus Kate on the road with our trusty Beatrix the blue Toyota Highlander and Marion the vintage Trillium trailer. This leg of the journey takes us into California from the feet of Mt. Shasta to the range of light near Bishop.
The landscape is severely thirsty as we arrive from Ashland Oregon to the California border, driving south on I5. Yet as we arrive in the city of Mt. Shasta, the lady mountain and her healing waters green the land all around her. Here lies the headwaters of the Sacramento River.
We parked in front of the Galactic Traveler, Mt. Shasta’s vortex tour, past life regression, and hypnotherapy center. The air smells phenomenally excellent of scented aromatherapy.
Across the street we breakfasted at Alua’s Thrive Bar. We ordered healthy bagels. I was fortunate Thrive provided GF delicious versions. Thrive carries Laird Hamilton’s super food. If you Google him, Lair Hamilton believes the path to true healing is through right food, right exercise and right body/mind/spirit.
Our food was so nourishing and delicious that we were filled with half of a bagel. Mine had the best red sauerkraut flavored with ginger. Avocado and sprouts added to the sandwich. Mount Shasta is a touch stone to recharge our batteries. We feel lifted here and get a high being in the mountain’s presence.
Driving along I5 we stopped for second breakfast along the Sacramento River at Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding. The life-giving food from Thrive nourished us. The temperature read 95° as we drove south on I5 to Chico and east to Nevada City in the western Sierra. It would have been an unbearable drive without air conditioning.
We camped for two nights at Scotts Flat Lake, site 223, just downhill from the excellent bathroom and showers and across from the reservoir. Run by the Nevada Irrigation District, the lake is low by about 100 feet. There are no electric hookups here. On our first night Bill helped a late arriving neighbor to park into a site next to ours. The following morning we met Mary, a strong woman and firefighter for the City of San Jose. She lives along the coast in the small hamlet of Davenport. Her dogs are Mimi and Captain. She seemed like family.
The friendly folk at the Nevada City Library suggested we eat at the local’s place in a strip mall, El Favorito Taqueria, in nearby Grass Valley. The street tacos were excellent and Bill’s burrito was big enough for two meals. Bill stopped in at nearby Staples to download paperwork for that evening’s water district meeting. That evening he sat in the parking lot at Three Forks Bakery & Brewing in Nevada City. I sat outside the restaurant and read a Kindle story.
We revisited Nevada City the next day. It was hot, touristy, and we found more comfort at our campsite than in the tired town. Mary our camp neighbor directed us to a lake trail, which we took, enjoying the geology of tuff and other multi-colored stone. Bill had a dot of service on his iPhone and read an email from our friends staying at our house. El Coyote was seen running down Morning Glory Lane where we live. We cautioned them to be mindful of our Ollie the orange tomcat when he was outside.
Bill‘s Visa card went missing after he bought ice at the Rainbow Market In Nevada City the morning we left the Western Sierra on Oct. 20. While stopping for breakfast near Lake Tahoe, Bill realized his card was gone. We cancelled our credit card, learned there were no unwarranted charges and ordered a new set to be mailed to my niece’s home in Mesa AZ, where we will be the last weekend of October.
Driving along Hwy 395 toward Gardnerville we stopped at the Carson Valley Swim Center for a swim outside in the hot sun. Arriving at our long-time friends Carolyn and Pat Lewis, we were glad to be back in the sagebrush step country again with views of our beloved high Sierra.
Pat’s 96-years-young mom Alice was staying with Pat and Carolyn, following a broken femur, she received following a fall in her yard the month before at her nearby home.
After eating barbecued chicken we watched Jeopardy’s playoff game and then Wheel of Fortune with Pat Sajak and Vanna White still hosting after 40 years. Carolyn muted the insane political ads that came in after short glimpses of the game shows. The ads flashed one after the other in rapid scenes of tortured hate-filled words and angry faces. If people believe this is the only form of government, I could see why they would turn away. Thank the gods we have faith in our remaining good leaders who care enough to stand up in these turbulent times.
On Saturday I visited with Carolyn and Alice, learning of Alice’s grandmother, Bunny Ward, a talented plein air artist in her time. Bunny’s daughter Edith was a real estate pro who ran a resort in Palm Desert that catered to celebrities and three presidents. Bill and Pat worked to install a new valve on Marion’s 43-year-old furnace. Bill and I picked up excellent Sonney’s Barbecue for our dinner. We watched Mel Brooks’ Producers, one of Pat’s favorite films. We laughed heartily at the insane scenes.
We left Carolyn and Pat’s at 10:30 October 23, and gazed out at the snow dusted Sierra. It was 50° outside. Beautiful blue skies and cloud remnants of the storm from the day before followed us as we drove south on Hwy. 395.
The night before, Alice, who has spent decades in the eastern Sierra, told us of a church her community built, the Infant of Prague Catholic Church south of Bridgeport. We happened to arrive in time for the gospel portion of mass with Father Jorge A. Romàn. Its crucifix was framed by the Sierra mountains. Mentioning Alice’s role in building the church, Father Romàn gave a blessing to her and her late husband Josè for their part in building the still-beautiful little church. Father Romàn spoke about the strength that comes from believing in God.
One of our favorite drives on Earth is along Hwy 395, south of Mammoth Lakes to Bishop. On this sunny day as we approached Bishop, we noticed a fire near the Mill Pond exit. Fortunately helicopters with buckets and fire trucks had the fire contained and out by the time we passed.
Our first stop in Bishop at was at Mahogany Smoked Meats. Hungry, I ordered a ham and turkey club sandwich with a side of bacon.The air was clear in Bishop and our eyes were drawn to the naked peaks of Mt. Tom, Basin Peak and Humphreys Peak. This was the first time in my life and 42 years of visiting the eastern Sierra that no snow was seen.
Stopping for lunch at Bishop’s community park, I savored the delicious smoky flavor of my ham. Afterward Bill walked over to Erick Schat’s Bakery. It is Bill’s temple to raisin bread, raisin rolls and fig bars. He returned with bags and a beaming face as if he was finally reunited with his true loves: the eastern Sierra peaks, the golden aspen, and one of his gold standards of bakeries.
Camped in the meadow of Keough’s Hot Springs in space 7C, we felt like we’d come home. Be sure not to get booked in site 7B, as its ground is filled with tree roots and is uneven.
Cozy in the trailer on this cold and windy night, wind gusts buffeted little Marion. We watched the Manchurian Candidate, a prescient film in 1962. We learned that the book which inspired the film was written by a CIA operative posing as a journalist. The Manchurian Candidate, whose themes concerned brainwashing by Communists and a planned assassination of a presidential candidate, was released a year before JFK’s assassination. Strange.
We washed our clothes in a Bishop laundromat the following morning. I stopped in at Pupfish Cafe, expecting the same food made with love that we’ve enjoyed on our past three visits. Once its walls were painted in shades of turquoise and artists’ work hung on the walls. Now there’s a new owner. The spirit was literally whitewashed from the walls and the new young woman owner says it will remain that way. My GF toast, eggs and avocado were tasteless and lifeless as well. Later my gut would react in violent protest. Since early 2020, any gluten I consume causes an immediate reaction that leaves me drained. Here is a plea that Pupfish Cafe’s new owner learn the art of cooking with good ingredients to nourish people. May she once again appreciate color and local artists.
We drove west on Line Street and were seemingly on a tractor beam into our beloved mountains, choosing the Bishop Creek route. We picnicked in one of our favorite aspen groves in Forks campground in a closed National Forest site along Bishop Creek. The sky was blue and the yellow, rust and green aspen leaves rattled in the wind. The leaf song is a balm to our spirit. While picnicking, half a dozen beautifully dressed Chinese ladies drove up, laughing, taking photos of themselves tossing the colored aspen leaves. I thought of their happiness, like ours, and wondered why our headlines don’t broadcast the pure joy of two Americans and six Chinese women gathering to enjoy the mountain’s tidings.
We climbed the granite block trail, following the rim along South Lake, at its lowest in the history our 42 years visiting here. Our great reward was sitting across from Humphreys basin and its jagged peaks. There is a power in the mountains here that raises our spirits and makes our heart expand—this is our religion—our faith.
Heading west out of the mountains we appreciated the 5:15 PM shadows in the folds and creases of the White Mountains rising above the sage and rabbit brush-covered Owens Valley.
On the little radio our friend Kateri gave us we listened to KSRW 92.5, the Sierra Wave—Sierra’s best classic rock. That evening we heard excellently curated songs. Bob Dylan’s Forever Young. Van Morrison singing, It’s Too Late. Neil Young’s I Want to Feel Your Love! John Fogerty’s It’s Almost Saturday Night. Tom Petty’s Wildflowers. The Byrds’ Times They Are a Changing. The Cars’ Just What I Needed. We felt tuned hearing this set of songs that spoke to us on a deep level.
While immersed in music this night, I read excerpts from Kendra Atleeworks’ Miracle Country. In it Kendra notes the 19th century writer Mary Austin who used to live in Independence, south of here, in the eastern Sierra range. Mary Austin once wrote: “This country has a way of fastening on your vitals.” I agree. This country of arid valley and two mountain ranges holds us in a profound way that goes beyond thought.
The night was long as sleep evaded me again. Pain in hips and shoulders made it hard to find a position that didn’t wake me with pain. Placement of a buckwheat pillow beneath my hip helped a bit.
The following morning, zombie-like, I published a story about Whidbey’s Civility First photo contest. Many of its winners are residents of Island County’s jail. No matter what else goes on, writing stories is always medicine and it is where I feel the most myself.
I phoned a chiropractor in Mammoth and was lucky to find a noon appointment. In-line Chiropractic’s Shannon Bissonette, who has practiced for more than two decades, pushed the trigger points in hips, neck and shoulders. Sweet relief. I felt the flow of oxygen to my head that I hadn’t felt in a long while. I could walk upright without feeling the stiffness in my lower back. I felt exhilaration.
After picnicking at Lake Mary, we drove south of Mammoth Lakes and parked at Convict Lake. Last year when we were here, the place was overrun with hoards gathered for a fishing derby. Outhouses overflowed and so did the trash cans then.
This year it was quieter and we circumnavigated Convict Lake, about a 2.5 mile walk. A joyous man holding a pair of 24-inch rainbow trout came walking toward us. He was beaming at his catch and said he would enter the fish in the ongoing derby.
At the back of the lake, at the base of Convict Peak, we basked in its healing energy. Bliss. Walking among old aspen groves, we breathed in the peppery pungent smell of the fallen leaves. The deeply breathed scent opened a portal of joy within us. The sky was lowering with gray clouds and the wind was blowing. All of our senses were awakened and filled with this medicine. A young German couple of travelers Annè and Mike, talked with us. We suggested they camp at either the Robin or Shepherd’s hot creek tubs out in the desert below Mammoth Lakes. We hope they made it there. We used to camp at the Shepherd’s hot tub for years.
On our return we met a Chinese couple, both radiated a brilliant royalty air of beauty and kindness. The woman, all clad in white, held a French bulldog wearing a bright print jacket. We talked to a tween who was fishing. He spoke so well of the land, I told him he was fortunate to appreciate this land at such a young age. He told us he lives nearby at Crowley Lake and practices catch and release with his rainbow trouts. No derbies for him.
The following morning we tried to run our furnace. The pilot light would not stay lit. Having a local man at nearby Eastern Sierra Propane examine our problem, his conclusion was that the seal around the furnace had failed. We contacted our faithful man Joe with Trillium Trailers in Calgary, Alberta Canada. He said he would mail us a seal. That ought to arrive at my Uncle Orland’s in Tucson and hopefully we can get our furnace working before heading up the California coast in December.
On our last night in the eastern Sierra, we drove to Schober Lane in Bishop and walked along the water canals maintained by the Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power. Long has there been a charged relationship between the people of Owens Valley and the City of Los Angeles. We admired the ancient cottonwood trees growing along the canal, the changing hues of the White Mountains and the color of the clouds glowing over the eastern Sierra.
Next we head to camp at Whitewater Canyon Preserve near Palm Springs, and then to Arizona. Adios amigos and amigas, from Bajada Bill and Cactus Kate.
At this moment, I am at the Cabazon Library beneath the San Jacinto Mountains. We will be in the desert until close to Thanksgiving.